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It Takes a Village: Why Building Great Teachers is a Team Sport

Contrary to popular belief, great teachers don't just spring from the ether. Here's the story of how a group of invested individuals helped one young teacher succeed.
 
 
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Photo Credit: Dmitriy Shironosov via Shutterstock.com

 

Just a few years ago, while teaching at a middle school in the Bronx, David Baiz was given an unsatisfactory rating and targeted for elimination.

So when New York City published its Teacher Data Reports last week, Baiz, who now teaches at a middle school in Harlem, had reason to be, at the very least, relieved. He was ranked in the 91st percentile, or above average.

But Baiz, 29, knows that neither rating was accurate or useful. The TDRs violate basic rules of statistics because they assume that students are assigned to class rooms on a random basis, which is not the case. They also are riddled with data errors: In the case of Baiz’s ratings—he has received two TDRs in his teaching career—while both pegged him as “above average”, they both included likely errors in the value-added portion of his rating, the wrong number of students in his classes and a high likelihood that some of the students included in his assessment may never have been in his class.

Baiz’s unsatisfactory evaluation, on the other hand, captured his inexperience as a first-year teacher, as well as the effects of a family crisis that impaired his performance; however, the rating did nothing to assess—or foster-- his considerable potential.

Evolution

These days no one who knows Baiz, a math teacher at Global Technology Preparatory in Harlem, would dispute that when education reformers talk about wanting to put a high-quality teacher in every classroom, they are talking about teachers like him. In the three years since he “escaped” the Bronx and joined Global Tech, Baiz has emerged as something of a model teacher. Visitors from around the country have flocked to his classroom to see his innovative approach to mixing online tools and old-fashioned instruction. He has helped win the school thousands of dollars in grants. He won a prestigious Math for America fellowship that comes with a $15,000-per-year stipend. He also was selected as one of six New York City teachers to be part of the Digital Teacher Corps, a Ford Foundation-funded collaboration among educators, technologists, and designers to develop interactive digital learning tools aimed at improving student engagement and achievement. And his colleagues have voted him as their union representative.

“David is skilled; he’s always moving forward,” says Chrystina Russell, Global Tech’s principal. Virtually every day “he gives 125 percent.”

But Baiz would be the first to admit that his story isn’t about star power. Indeed, Baiz’s experience is a case study in the importance of collaboration and team work in achieving constant improvement both in teaching and in the overall results for kids. It is also an object lesson in how both TDRs and traditional teacher evaluations can serve to undermine those goals.

Collaboration

Indeed, a recent study by Rutgers School of Management and Labor Relations, Collaborating on School Reform, shows that contrary to popular practice and the dictates of many corporate education reformers, the secret to long-term improvement for teachers, schools and students is “substantive collaboration” at all levels—from the classroom to administration to unions. Developing quality teachers, says Saul Rubinstein, an associate professor at Rutgers and one of the authors of the study is about “mentoring, sharing instructional practice, collaborating.” The problem with traditional accountability measures, such as TDRs and punitive performance appraisals, is that they “de-professionalize teaching,” says Rubinstein. The best systems are those that “help teachers succeed.”

Or, as W. Edwards Deming, the quality guru once said, putting the blame for poor performance squarely at the feet of management: There are only two reasons for having deadwood—either you hired deadwood or you hired live wood and you killed it.

 
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